Small changes can make a big difference to improving patient care, as proven in research conducted by Griffith University’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland into the most commonly used hospital medical device. Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the study to determine the best protocol for maintaining intravenous (IV) catheters in patients’ veins has impacted health practice worldwide.

Professor Claire Rickard

Evidence shows IV catheters have a failure rate of up to 69 per cent, due largely to blood clots, vein irritation and inflammation, dislodgement, tissue damage from incorrect placement, and serious infections.

The Griffith research team, headed by Professor Claire Rickard who leads Griffith’s Alliance for Vascular Access Teaching and Research, investigated the merits of the decades-old medical consensus to replace IV catheters every three days which often caused discomfort to patients.

The definitive research found that routine replacement was unnecessary, time-consuming, painful, and damaging to blood vessels, all of which diminished patient wellbeing and satisfaction. Medical authorities and device manufacturers worldwide have accepted these findings, which, according to studies conducted by Griffith’s expert health economics researchers, will deliver savings of hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the healthcare system.

This has led to a change in hospital protocols regarding IV catheters in the UK, the US, Spain, New Zealand and Australia.

The Griffith research of IV catheter protocols involved more than 3,300 patients and proved that it was less invasive and expensive to replace IV catheters when clinically required than to do so routinely. Clinical reasons may include the completion of medical treatment, blockages, fever or inflammation.

These results published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and The Lancet led to changes in the UK National Health Service guidelines for hospital infection prevention in 2014, making it mandatory for all adult hospitals to replace catheters only if clinically indicated.

Professor Rickard’s research has had a similar impact in the US. Data from a survey of 51 counties show one third of hospitals have the new policy of only replacing IV catheters when clinically necessary. Professor Rickard’s work on improving vascular access is ongoing and has recently included collaborative projects with healthcare institutions internationally.